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Extreme Bush: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

November 22, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

I watched the newscast footage of Bush addressing an election-eve rally in Virginia a few weeks ago, and the guy looked and sounded somewhat inebriated; slurring his words, a goofy grin on his face, oversized mannerisms. I had read recent articles about Bush's inability to handle the enormous stress he's under these days and the likelihood of his being on anti-depressants and/or hitting the bottle again, but just assumed those were sensationalist bloggers spreading some dirty fictions.

But, oh my, when I watched the video clips of his sad performance at that Virginia rally, I began to wonder. It can't be easy being Bush these days, when all is collapsing around him. Consider:

  • The Iraq war going so badly that even that old dependable warhawk John Murtha is urging Bush to close it down and redeploy the troops

  • Libby, DeLay under indictment and the Abramoff scandal getting closer to the White House, with Frist on a legal hot seat as well

  • Patrick Fitzgerald heating up the Plamegate probe after hearing from Bob Woodward, which could put Cheney, Rove, Hadley and Rice once again under the Grand Jury microscope

  • Centrist Republicans causing grief for Bush's agenda

  • McCain's treatment-of-prisoners amendment making headway, forcing Cheney and Bush to lobby for torture

  • GOP stalwart Sen. John Warner sticking it to Bush on the lack of success in Iraq

  • Establishment conservative Republicans like Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Wilkerson and Bill Buckley and others firing off the equivalent of mortar rounds into the White House over Bush's Iraq war;

  • The Downing Street Memos from inside Tony Blair's headquarters verified that the Iraq war had been on the boards for at least a year before the invasion, with the job being to "fix the intelligence" around that policy decision

  • Doug Feith and his Office of Special Plans being probed by the Pentagon's Inspector-General for allegedly "stovepiping" raw intel directly to Cheney/Libby in the White House

  • The Taliban majorly regrouping in Afghanistan

  • ANWR drilling taken off the table yet again

  • Harry Reid implying the Dems might filibuster on Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court

  • Bush's poll numbers plunging into the mid- and even low-30s

  • the residue of the "incompetence" and "lack of trust" issues from Katrina and the Iraq disasters; the CIA leaking more and more damaging info about Bush policy

The Good News: the Bush agenda is in jeopardy and the once-tight GOP organization is in tatters, with corruption and incompetence and wrongheadedness everywhere. Imperial ambitions are running headlong into reality. All these provide room to maneuver for the GOP moderates, and openings to attack for the Democrats, who finally are beginning to wake up after years of numbness and atrophy.

The Bad News: On the other hand, Bush, Cheney, Rove and the GOP remain in power - can you imagine three more years of that cornered, weakened, flailing crew, with all the deliberate and unintended damage they can do?

What would happen, for example, if a desperate or half-deranged Bush decides on an extreme wag-the-dog action - say, if he were to order a "pre-emptive" nuclear strike on Iran or Syria or North Korea or Venezuela, or all of them together? Would there be anybody to stop him inside the Administration? Would the Joint Chiefs have the courage to - and be able to - rein him in?

Who knows? We've never been in this dark place before.

CONSTITUTIONAL CRISES, THEN AND NOW

Well, maybe we almost were once, when a heavy-drinking Nixon seemed ready to take the country and the Constitution down with him as he was heading over the political cliff known as Watergate and into the Senate's impeachment dock. But, perhaps because cooler heads prevailed, Nixon resigned instead - the first such asterisk next to a president's name in America's history.

But the damage Nixon could do was almost more personal than political or international. The carnage Bush could do to the country, and the world, is of an entirely different order of magnitude.

Domestically, Bush could, for example, force the country into a Constitutional crisis - by, say, declaring martial law as commander-in-chief during "wartime."

Yes, that's right; according to this cockamamie legal doctrine worked out by his then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez and his neo-con legal team, Bush claims to be legally home-free to ignore and violate laws whenever he acts as commander-in-chief during "wartime."

This makes him pretty much a dictator, indefinitely, since Bush & Co. continually tell us that we're in the midst of a war that will last forever. So far as I know, neither Gonzales (now Attorney General) nor Bush has ever disavowed the memos that supplied that interpretation of what a President legally can do.

You may recall that Nixon tried something similar during the Watergate scandal, claiming that any time a President took an action, it was, by virtue of him being President, ipso facto legal. The U.S. Supreme Court shot that one down quickly. But it would appear that Bush & Co. are willing to act as if that decision never had been rendered by the court, because they've come up with a different legal gimmick - the "commander-in-chief-during-wartime" ploy.

Sure, a presumptive Bush case would wend its way up to the Supreme Court, but that could take a year or more and, in the interim, all kinds of deadly mischief could be implemented and the Constitution wrecked even more. Plus, with Roberts and Alito on the court, and their affinity for strong executive preeminence in "wartime," there's no guarantee of a decision similar to the Nixon case.

THE PLAME/MURTHA CONNECTION

Watching how the Republicans are attacking John Murtha for criticizing Bush's failed policy in Iraq makes the genesis of the Plamegate scandal more understandable.

Consider: Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote his famous op-ed piece for the New York Times some months after Bush gave the Iraqis a healthy dose of "shock & awe." But things weren't going well for the Occupation or for the way the U.S. war on Iraq was viewed around the world. Old allies were openly in opposition, no WMD had been found, millions of folks around the globe earlier had gone into the streets in opposition to Bush's invasion.

And then here comes insider Joe Wilson, with an administration pedigree and solid credentials, telling the world that, in effect, the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Rice-Rove cabal in the White House had lied about Iraq's nuclear capabilities, and by extension, the whole WMD issue in general, along with the supposed Saddam/al-Qaida connection. In short, the war had been launched, and an Occupation had been established, based on lies and deceptions. The political fallout could be devastating.

Rove and the rest of the high-ranking White House Iraq Group - established to market the war - simply had to stop further attacks on its credibility and quickly, before anti-war sentiment gained any further momentum. Thus the slime attack on Wilson, and the outing of his CIA operative wife, Valerie Plame - hitting him where it hurts. Hitting Wilson/Plame hard, the Bush Administration believed, would get the message to other insider whisteleblowers to keep their mouths shut.

And their plan worked, at least for a good while. True, anti-Bush elements inside the CIA, reacting to what had been done to their colleague Plame, leaked a lot of damaging revelations about how the case for war had been concocted out of unreliable raw intel, unvetted by the professional intelligence agencies. But, on the whole, the Bushies were able to keep a lid on their hidden policies and crimes, at least through the all-important 2004 election.

But simmering below the surface was Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's criminal probe of the Plamegate scandal, with Cheney's surrogate, Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, indicted on five counts of lying, perjury and obstruction of justice. (Update: Fitzgerald a few days ago acknowledged that he's once again bringing witnesses before a sitting grand jury, which suggests that other Administration heavies could be indicted soon. Possible targets: Rove, Cheney, Hadley, Rice and others.)

IRAQ RETURNS TO THE FRONT BURNER

Suddenly the false reasons for going to war in 2003 are thrust back into the headlines. This development dovetails with a major increase in deaths of American military personnel and Iraqi civilians and police forces at the hands of Iraqi insurgents - and growing evidence of increasing tension between Sunni and Shi'ite elements. Very quickly, in poll after poll, Americans of all stripes - including, most ominously for the Bush Administration, conservative Republicans - indicate that they increasingly believe the Administration hasn't got a clue what it's doing in Iraq and that the time has come for considering whether to cut our losses and get the hell out of that incipient civil war situation. Bush's ratings are down in the mid-30s, as low as they've ever been in five years.

And then horror of horrors for the neo-cons who took the country into war: the one influential Democrat warhawk they always could count on, Representative John Murtha, launches a frontal assault on the justifications for staying in what is a losing war effort in Iraq. The time to get out is now, he says - actually he said re-deploying U.S. troops out of Iraq sometime within the next six months - before tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel and Iraqi civilians are killed or wounded and we have to get out anyway at that time. In other words, the Vietnam-quagmire scenario.

Which brings us to The Ugly: we're back to Karl Rove's revolting attack scenario, similar to what he devised in the Joe Wilson/Plamegate scenario. Got to slime and brutalize Murtha, their loyal ideological war-hawk buddy (even threatening him with an ethics probe), to make an example of him so that nobody else gets the idea that it's wise to criticize either the rationale for war or the conduct of the war. Murtha and his ilk, especially among the suddenly feisty Democrats, have to be defeated now, lest the anti-war and impeachment momentum build even more.

It's their political future that Bush & Co. have put into the political poker pot. No margin for error. This is for the big ones: continued exercise of power, and avoiding jail terms down the line for their crimes. That's why the gloves are off, and the emotional intensity is so heightened - that plus the fact that this is the first real debate on the war so lots of pent-up passions are being loosed. The Busheviks are fighting to remain in control - and out of prison - and the Democrats are battling not only to end an immoral and illegal war but to try to retake at least one house of Congress in next year's midterm election, thus insuring serious Congressional movement to impeach Bush and Cheney forthwith.

WHAT'S TO BE DONE?

So what should we progressives, moderates and traditional conservative Republicans do in response to what's happening in D.C.? Just stand by with grins on our faces, watching the GOP run around confused as their carefully-constructed house of cards comes tumbling down? Say a pox on both your houses and work to establish a third party alternative to the corrupt, power-hungry Republican zealots and the programless, timid Democrats? Give aid and comfort to those Dems now asserting themselves and try to reform the party from within? Make our first priority the integrity of the vote in next year's mid-term elections, focusing on hand-counted paper ballots, given the history of how easy it is to manipulate the tally-numbers in an e-voting system?

From where I sit, the answer is: all of the above. This is no time to choose just one and sit back and watch. All of our energies and time and money have to be devoted not only to the short-term project of getting this reckless, corrupt crew out of the White House but also to the longer-term necessity of getting our political and electoral houses in order.

Here are some essential areas for action:

  • Keep pouring it on, don't give the Bushies a moment of peace to regroup their forces: Alito's nomination, the catastrophe that is the Iraq War, the specific lies and deceptions that took us into that war, the endemic corruption, torture as state policy, the lack of true homeland security, the Patriot Act crimes against the Constitution, the huge tax breaks for the already-wealthy while popular social programs are cut for the middle-class and poor, the stagnant economy, the humongous deficits, etc. etc.

  • Focus on taking back the House and/or Senate in 2006.

  • Keep the options open and do the necessary exploratory work to develop a wide and deep third party movement should the Democrats return to their milquetoast ways, especially on the Iraq War issue. And, where appropriate, DINO Democrats - Democrats In Name Only - should be challenged in the primaries.

  • Heap all praise on those elected Dem leaders willing to stand up openly to the White House - the Murthas, the Reids, the Pelosis, the Kennedys, et al. - and even such Republicans as Specter, Snowe, Hagel and the like. And keep that momentum building in the Congress, to provide a brake on overweening executive power. Doing so will encourage more Congressional willingness to consider impeachment, especially if Fitzgerald lowers the indictment boom on more Bush Administration officials.

TRUE ELECTION REFORM

Finally, and most importantly, do not permit the voting system in this country to remain corruptible and corrupted, as it is and has been for years with the current e-voting system in so many states, where the votes are tabulated by Republican-supporting companies using secret software only they control. It has been demonstrated that numbers easily can be changed by knowledgeable insiders, or hackers from outside, leaving no evidence of such manipulation.

Even if all the other reforms were implemented, they wouldn't mean a thing if the vote were to be stolen (again) on Election Day 2006.

Paper ballots, hand-counted, observed by representatives of both parties - this balloting system works in much of the rest of the world and it's time for America once again to have elections in which we can trust.

So, that's the news from this correspondent - the good, the bad, and the ugly. As Scoop Nisker says, if you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own.

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught government & international relations at various universities; has worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers. To comment, contact crisispapers@comcast.net.

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